"Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" / The Smiths
Watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall over the weekend, I caught this song faintly in the background as the lead character (hard to call him a hero) moped around his house after being dumped. An obvious soundtrack choice, but I wish it had been played up more; that adolescent self-pity vibrating through Morrissey's vocals completely pegged what was going on with that guy, and I've been humming the song ever since.
I missed the Smiths -- but then again, most of us in the States did. Face it, the Eighties were a strange musical limbo, with the great stuff (there was great stuff, I now know) floating around the ozone while records like Thriller and Like a Virgin and Kissing to Be Clever were repeatedly blasted at us. No wonder we sucked up the Police and Dire Straits like fresh water in the desert. If it hadn't been for that vacuum, maybe we wouldn't have had Springsteen to deal with today.
But coming to the Smiths late is better than never discovering them at all. While I dig Morrissey's more recent stuff too, the idiosyncracies of the Smiths really get me where I live. Being a Ray Davies fan, I'm not put off by Morrissey's fey vocals at all; in fact I love them. Few songwriters can get away with throwing rhymes out the window, but Morrissey pulls it off, maybe because he also doesn't care how many syllables are in a line. That quirky mix of Brechtian songspiele with a backbeat and Johnny Marr's catchy guitar riffs was genius.
Our singer's condition is something we can all secretly identify with: "I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour / But heaven knows I'm miserable now / I was looking for a job and then I found a job / And heaven knows I'm miserable now." None of the conventional cures really work for this guy. As the melody ricochets wearily between two notes, occasionally flipping up into a mournful falsetto, we're sucked into his passive-aggressive paralysis.
His general misanthropy kicks in too -- "In my life / Why do I give valuable time / To people who don't care if I live or die" (great self-pitying wail there) or "Why do I smile / At people who / I'd much rather kick in the eye" -- we all know how that feels. But how English is that knee-jerk politeness, not to mention all the resentful baggage it carries with it? His girlfriend is useless: "What she asked of me at the end of the day / Caligula would have blushed." That line cracks me up, especially given the drama queen flutter he gives "blushed." "Oh, you've been in the house too long, she said" -- I bet she did -- "And I naturally fled." Naturally. Really, he may feel sorry for himself, but I've got news for you, man, she's not the problem.
So what are we supposed to make of this guy? Morrissey sees how ridiculous he is, for sure, but he's not totally putting him down; there's some sneaky sympathy there too. (It's the same slippery perspective Ray Davies has been using for years.) We're free to see aspects of ourselves in his whiny despondency, or not. Whatever. It's better than a trip to the shrink, in my opinion, and a hell of lot more fun.
Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now sample